This is one of the cool things we've been working on. put together a really interesting tactical combat system with collectible characters. I think of it as what Magic the Gathering would be like if played with miniatures. Plus a bit of yomi-thinking.
There's a solid tutorial and a campaign as well as the ability to play both concurrent multiplayer games as well as async play-by-mail multiplayer games. My crystal bolt deck will crush your arrow deck any day.
Give it a try and report any issues you find on the forums:
(PS: I wish I could also include an image in this post and a link, but Google+'s ability to deal with basic human expression sucks. Even as someone who adores elegance, the management weenies who insist on moronically limited formatting options need to be beat with a stick. :-)
Q = cos(angle/2) + axis*sin(angle/2),
P' = Q * P * ~Q.
Each year, Ludum Dare issues a month-long challenge to game developers: make a game and bring to to market. For this year’s “October Challenge” I am proud to present Mars Orbital, a 3d platformer game with “skateboarding-in-space” physics. I had so much fun making this game, and I’m really happy with the result.
Mars Orbital is currently on sale! I would be grateful if you would be generous enough to help me achieve my October Challenge goal. Thank you!
It should run great on any Windows machine, old or new. The game uses the openGL fixed-function rendering pipeline, which means that it should run fine even on laptops or older PCs that can’t handle today’s advanced shaders. Playtesters have reported framerates as high as 300 FPS when running on a modern gaming rig at full HD (1920×1080) resolution!
It uses PhysX for realistic rigid-body physics simulation. It even supports non-convex solids, which was essential for proper handling of snowboarding or skateboarding-style “half-pipes” and level geometry with rounded corners.
The game consists of 12 levels, including a hidden “bonus level” (hint – do a blind jump to the left on the first level), a “speed round” (where you try to collect as many powerups as possible in a limited time), even even a simple “boss battle” (where a ball of electricity tries to push you off the ledge).
Use the arrow keys to move. Collect as many powerups as you can and avoid falling into space. Find the teleporter to warp to the next level.
With the right amount of momentum, you can pull off insanely big jumps between platforms!
John Blow makes me think about what I'm doing as a game designer. From what I can tell, he comes at games from a different set of values (For example, I preference systems of people over expressive puzzles). But I love that he is intentionally creating a game to be an intense point of distilled meaning. It is very different from how I approach things. I suspect his approach is inherently more friendly to history. He makes me think.
My games are not art
I make games. It is a sort of diarrhea. I wake up in the morning and the ideas flow. Blocking the act of creation induces pain. I strive for a certain excellence in the results that I may not always achieve, but at the end of the day satisfaction (but never satiety) occurs if I'm constantly making and releasing games.
Is there are larger burning signal? Not really. Instead the games I work on are a dartboard of studies. How do people cooperate? What are the richest dynamics can coax out of this old system? Or this new quirky system involving time, space, people and emotions? I find these questions deeply fascinating and games are my way exploring them. The game I create are perhaps best described as elegant, complete and hopefully intriguing petri-dishes. They are not a method of communicating or evoking a thing burning inside that needs to be shared.
Will any of my games be considered 'artistic'? Somehow I doubt that.
Action vs Reaction
I see most art as a reaction to the world. The artist sucking in the world and then expressing their reaction to it through art. Some yells 'This is me' or 'This is what I think" or "This is what you should think" or "I felt this and want to share." Art expresses a facet of the common human experience and in turn evokes a sense of connection and hopefully synthesis with the audience's existing experiences.
There are various intricately constructed theories that allow wiggle room for there to be more than this. Yet by and large, art that fails to evoke fails as art.
Can games be this evocative art? Sure. But on a personal level, I just not sure that is what I end up creating.
I make things that players do. This is different than art. A walk through the park is not art. A story or painting or documentary about that walk that packages up something magical and deeply human might be art. But the act of walking, the walk itself was just something that happened. Without reflection, it is just another walk. Just another human event in a world awash with human events.
You play Steambirds. Very rarely does that game confront the player and demand a reaction, only an action. Or for that matter, nor does the game express a reaction beyond vague emotions that can be interpret in a thousand different ways. Some players feel bad about senseless war that pervades every moment of Steambirds: Survival. But most don't. It is as thought provoking as walking in the park. A thing you do. A moment in life.
To me there is nothing more beautiful than taking a walk through the local forest with the late sun streaming through whispering leaves. Throughout history, the natural reaction for observers of life is to take that moment and create art. When I paint, I so desperately want to capture that moment and share it. I wish my writing was better so I could describe the joy that comes from the simple act of smelling the dirt and loam and moss. I know the urges of the artist intimately.
Yet these are distinctly not the same urges I have as a game designer. With games, I seed new moments of life. Invention or perhaps more mundanely, gardening. Not expression in the typical sense of the phrase. I am motivated to empower someone to have a new experience as rich as walking in the park but unique and as special as the mathematical core mechanic that generates this delectable pocket universe.
Words fail me
I tend to think that neither art nor even language is built to talk about the nature of games. These are tools of description, not tools of being. They can document what has passed and they can fantasize about what could be. But they aren't really all that competent at discussing how to create a functional reality. That is the world of physics, mathematics, economics, social dynamics, psychology and portions of what we call game design.
I struggle with the language to even describe these thoughts. It is really such a simple idea. 'The being' vs the 'reaction to the being.' Yet the only way we can talk about the 'being' is to have a reaction and it is so easy to mistake that for the essence of the original moment.
An inedible finish
So the games I make are rarely primarily evocative. They rarely share something personal about me. Or seek to be universally meaningful. There is no authored transmission of the nuanced relationship between an elderly prisoner and the dreams of her younger self. Instead they are Individual. Involving. Memorable. If art is how humans understand the world, games can be the creation of human worlds worth understanding.
What is Triple Town really about? Your playing of Triple Town. For me, for now, that is enough.
Yet, such a contraption bores artists and lovers of art. Oh, an event. Dull. Stupid. Shallow. What is missing is the expected pre-chewing. You know, what real artists do to the world. And a little pre-digestion critically helps the other organs of artistry do their job. Distilled packages of meaning replicated, commented on, curated, displayed, distributed and transfer so much more easily than that system that caused to you (and only you) to die because you forgot to turn three degrees to the left and used a bomb instead of a shield.
All the best,
Answer: Because I want to keep making original games for the next twenty years without a boss and the current packaged goods model has shown little evidence of allowing for that long term.
The trap of packaged games
When I look at self-described indies, it is most common that they are following variations on the decades old downloadable/retail model. There's a packaged product that you pay a fixed price for through a third party distribution network and then if you are lucky, you sell that player another game later on. Most folks don't even question this. It is just how 'good games' are made.
This is the business model that I've participated in for the past 16 years. And I have friends that have been doing it longer than that. In that time, I've noticed a list of deadly traps that perhaps only a dozen out of the thousands of game companies manage to survive.
Successes are sporadic
When you make a game that earns 1+ year's salary, it feels like you've made it. 90+% of devs would be delighted to be in this position. For the moment, let's assume you've made it. For what it is worth, I've been there twice.
Having succeeded, many devs assume that they are inherently talented and can repeat that success with only a small amount of additional work. In reality, the number of 'developer successes' that have created multiple highly profitable games is surprisingly low. Go through your list of 'indie successes' and ask how many have created more than one hit game. More than two? Your list is likely dramatically smaller.
This isn't a new problem. Many of the 3rd party developers that existed around the turn of the century also were also small teams that made it big and then pursued the next big hit. They made good money on ports and created new IPs that never quite reached the same levels of success. Almost none of those companies are still alive today. Oh, our brain's tendency to focus on successes tends to blind us to the facts, but the reality is brutal.
Success leads to scale which leads to risk aversion and fragility in the face of volatility
There's a specific graph that you see in revenue for a typical packaged or downloadable game. You get a big spike of money that slowly trickles down to almost nothing. These are hit games in a hit driven industry with hit shaped revenues.
This has some fun psychological implications. When the money is good, it seems like it will never end. As a result, teams tend to overextend themselves. They hire on additional people, and they take on more ambitious and exciting projects. Also, many teams get their big successes in emerging markets that mature within a few years time. Where they once could spend a few hundred thousand and hit it big, they now need to spend a couple of million. Scaling is only logical. And why not? You've got the cash and the next success will pay for future successes.
At some point then the money starts fading. The next game suddenly needs to be a success. You make decisions that start matching what the market is doing. You start listening to experts. You start looking back on your past success and trying to emulate them. All this makes it more difficult to comprehend and react to new opportunities. You've got a bloated company that is fragile.
The inglorious end
There are variety of things that a company will do at this point. Arrangements with more stable entities like publisher where future games are traded for cash infusions are the most common. Developers, in their heart of hearts, just want to make games and if that means signing fiddly little legal agreements so be it.
At this point, it doesn't take much to prompt a sale or bankruptcy. The stuttering success engine fails once too often. Bills come due and alternative funding isn't around. There is no portfolio large enough to smooth the curves. In the end, it isn't the average income over time that kills teams. It is the extended low points in the highly variable cycle of highs and lows. Sometime you fail 10 rolls in a row.
The game is rigged against developers
This pattern repeats with each opening of a new market. It happened with PC games. It happened with Playstation era console games. It happened with the casual games market. We are a mere few years from the death spirals in the console downloadable market. It is in the middle stage with social and mobile games where early successes still strut about feeling invincible.
Developers start out as independents and end up either out of the industry (very common) or working for someone else. It may take 10-15 years, but it is surprisingly predictable. I've come to the conclusion that long term, the hit-driven model found in disposable, packaged games is an anti-developer business model.
Many newer developers see emerging markets promoting a few Macaulay Culkin-esque successes and think replicating their pattern is how you win. I see the same market with forces not much changed from cycles past and see a repeat of the shattered dreams of dozens of my close friends. Why is it that slowly unfolding dynamics are always surprise?
There are absolutely exceptions. As I was tallying up a handful of studios that managed to survive this inevitable decline, I was struck by how few of them played the standard game. The big independents are obvious.
- Valve owns a distribution platform.
- Epic owns a very popular engine business.
- Blizzard has the world's largest MMO (and they still sold out).
- Insomniac formed sweetheart deals with Sony that resulted in launch title marketing with nearly guaranteed sales.
The smaller exceptions are also fascinating
- Spiderweb stayed small and served the same community for years
- Habbo grew slowly with an online multiplayer game.
These smattering all use a variety of techniques to reduce income volatility.
- They vertically integrate key aspects of production or distribution as profit centers.
- They building ongoing revenue streams usually in the form of a service.
- They cut out the middlemen and create long term relationship with customers.
- They religiously keep control of their cashcows. And milk them for years.
The revenue curves are distinctly less spiky and sporadic. They have longer tails and often fall down to a floor raised substantially above zero. There may be tough times but outright death is far less likely.
I look to these examples and pursue the following with all my projects
- I want to make games that services that last a decade or more.
- I want strong relationships with players and the communities they form.
- I want to build steady streams of revenue that grow slowly over time, not big sporadic hits.
- I want to remain independent and in control for the next twenty years.
And selling a 'complete game for a fixed fee' doesn't really meet many of these goals. (And before you say 'Minecraft', let's give it another decade. :-).
Imagine free-to-play games as practiced by a private company that makes games with long term retention for passionate players in a tightly knit community. That fits my personal goals substantially better. So I'm experimenting. I'm learning. Spry Fox may not figure it all out this time, but at least we are driving in the right direction.
So why you don't see Triple Town being slapped with 99 cent price tag and being sold like any other disposable wannabe hit? Been there. Done that. This time around, I'd much rather work towards having a lot fewer customers that see my games as a lifetime hobby. So I can continue to make great games for them for the rest of my life.
- University of TennesseeComputer Science, 2011 - present
- Station Camp
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